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(Editor’s note: Lisa Suennen is co-founder of Psilos Group, a healthcare-focused venture capital firm. She submitted this story to VentureBeat.)
A large part of my job is to host a parade of entrepreneurs through my office as they pitch me on their business plans. When I tell people that our firm invests in less than .003% of the companies we hear from in a given year, they are shocked that the number is so low. Sometimes I’m shocked that the number is so high.
That’s because there is a stunning lack of effective communications skills among the people who present to us. Their inability to tell a compelling story may well be the number one barrier to success in getting venture financing. If only people knew how to connect with us more effectively, our percentage might actually go up.
Not to sound like a jerk, but it is pretty hard to get in to make a pitch to my partners and me. It’s not that we are so high and mighty. It’s that time is short and the list of applicants is long. We try only to see companies in person who have a real chance of capturing our long-term attention in some way, even if that might be in the longer term, because we don’t like to waste our time or the time of the entrepreneurs.
Since those command performances are a bit hard to get, you would think people would come in prepared to inform and amaze us. Remarkably, what often happens is they leave to the deafening sound of crickets as we scratch our head in dismay. “What the heck was that?” is a phrase we too often find ourselves saying to each other as we watch the doors close behind people who have a bucketful of advanced degrees and dream of being the next Steve Jobs.
The reason for this dismay lies in the cavernous gap between what we want to hear and what we are often given by way of information in the average pitch meeting. While it’s true there are some amazingly effective communicators out there, too many entrepreneurs come in ill-prepared.
So what do you need to do to get our attention?
Understand that the purpose of that first meeting is to hook us. Tell us a story. Make us understand through the use of specific detail and imagery why the world can’t really live without your product and why you are uniquely qualified to deliver value to the marketplace (and thus me, the investor). Hearing about the quadratic equation that makes the little thingy next to the big thingy turn counter-clockwise and thus what drove you to pick titanium over aluminum is only mildly interesting, and then probably only to your graduate physics teacher.
Understanding that your product makes it possible to take out a tumor 2x faster, 1/3 cheaper and with better surgical margins because it takes a specific and unique approach to intervention that differs in these three specific ways from these four existing alternatives is great. Make me understand in no uncertain terms why I am going to feel like the world’s biggest idiot if I don’t get to give you my money.
In that hour or two you have with us it is your job to create excitement and be a storyteller.
So when you come into “pitch” a venture firm like us, give it to us straight and tell us a story about how you are going to change the world, or at least your field. Make sure to include the following information:
- Team: Who are you and why are you particularly right to lead this company? Who else is on your team? What assets do they have and what is their added value to what you are trying to achieve? Specifically, what have you accomplished for past investors?
- Product or Service: What is it your company does exactly? Not generally and not tons of technical details, but actually what does the specific product you sell actually do?
- Market Demand: Why does anyone care about that thing your company does, specifically? What specific burning problem are you solving?
- Market Fit in Today’s Economy: (Since we are a healthcare firm, this specific advice is particular to our firm – but adapt it to the type of VC you’re presenting to.) How does your product/service improve quality of care and reduce the cost of care to the healthcare system, specifically with data and examples?
- Competition: Who else tries to do what you do and how well do they do it? How are you differentiated in reality from your competition?
- Financing Plan: What amount of money are you trying to raise and what specific value are you going to create with it?
Do not bring 62 slides that are chock full of data points so small that that we need to attend the meeting armed with telescopes. All you really need are about 10 slides with the answers to numbers 1-6 above. We want to talk and get to know you as a person. We want to hear the big idea and the specific support for it. We want to get sucked into your vision so deeply that we need snorkels to stay connected to the oxygen supply.
Too often, though, this is how people approach these topics in their presentations – and it doesn’t go over well.
- Team: I, the entrepreneur, am amazing and have tons of experience, and some of that experience you might find relevant if I told you about it. But I won’t take the time to do that. And oh by the way, the last 5 companies I have been affiliated with made no money for their investors. But this time it’s different, trust me.
- Product/Service: My company makes a product based on technology so obscure that my PhD-bearing colleagues and I will need charts and graphs just to explain how we are going to explain it to you, which we will now commence doing for the allotted 2 hours. What does it actually do and what specific results does it achieve? Well we have run out of time, so that will have to wait until the next meeting.
- Market Demand: You probably know all about the specific problem we are solving so suffice it to say that we all agree it’s a big problem, wink, wink nudge, nudge. Or, alternatively, the market for the problem we are solving is so big that every man, woman, child, squirrel and chipmunk will die a fiery death if this product doesn’t reach the market by Thursday. (Needless to say, we need data and details for the market opportunity not casual comments.)
- Fit in Today’s Healthcare Economy: Our product improves the quality of care just by its very existence and it is so unbelievably awesome that the fact that it is just a tad bit more expensive than a gold-encrusted Ferrari will be overlooked by the grateful masses yearning for miniscule advances in technology that don’t really move the needle on outcome.
- Competition: No one else does what we do because they just aren’t smart enough.
- Financing Plan: We need $10-$20 million dollars to figure out if our product works and to do a bunch of other stuff and then we’ll get back to you about how and when you might get some value out of that.
So as you are preparing for your meeting, remember this famous thought from Murial Rukeyser, poet and political activist, “the universe is made of stories, not atoms.” Couldn’t agree more. When you visit us, tell us a story.